Michelle Obama speaks to Inner London schoolgirls

// 5 April 2009

In between wearing controversial cardigans and hugging the Queen (and from the press coverage you’d be forgiven for thinking that was all she’d been doing), Michelle Obama took time to speak to pupils at the all-girls Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in Islington, a state school with 92% BME pupil, 20% children of refugees or asylum seekers. Whilst underreported, the papers are calling the speech a “very personal statement of her political purpose and the new role that she is still in the process of creating as the president’s wife”.

She told the girls,

“I want you to know that we have very much in common. For nothing in my life’s path would have predicted that I would be standing here as the first lady of the United States of America. There was nothing in my story that would land me here. I wasn’t raised with wealth or resources of any social standing to speak of…

“If you want to know the reason why I’m standing here, it’s because of education. I never cut class. Sorry I don’t know if anybody here is cutting class. I never did. I loved getting As. I liked being smart. I loved being on time. I loved getting my work done. I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world.”

This Guardian article looks at the impact her words had on girls at EGA school, who are still visibly excited and starstruck by the visit, which was a complete surprise to them.

“You can relate to her story. She said, ‘I’m a working-class girl.’ And more or less all of us are working-class. She made it. And it made me think: if she can do it, so can I.”

Comments From You

Lucy // Posted 6 April 2009 at 9:32 am

I was bowled over by that speech. So empowering and inspirational. It made me proud to be a woman!

Jennifer Drew // Posted 6 April 2009 at 5:25 pm

Underreported – surely not. But wait a moment Michelle Obama was engaged in something other than being portrayed by the media as a male politician’s ‘trophy’ partner.

What a very powerful speech Ms. Obama gave and one furthermore which did not tell the young women ‘you can achieve anything as long as you hide your intelligence, uniqueness and originality but instead present yourselves as men’s sexualised playthings.’

Furthermore this school was deliberately chosen because it did not just comprise white young women but women from differing ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures. No wonder Boris wouldn’t send his daughter to this school – perhaps he was afraid she might be influenced by coming into contact with women and girls whose experiences are not those of an all-white western culture.

What an excellent, intelligent role Michelle Obama is and no wonder the media was ‘put out.’

Anne Onne // Posted 6 April 2009 at 5:43 pm

I first saw the pictures and I thought they were definitely worth a thousand words. Having someone so charismatic, so proud to be a woman who has achieved so much, come to talk to you, tell you it’s great to work hard, to be smart, must be an awe-inspiring feeling.

So many of these girls grow up with messages telling them the way forward is shut (and sadly, it still is very difficult), that the way to achieve success is through money or through hiding who you are to become a fantasy, it’s so nice to see a role model for girls, should they choose to have one, who isn’t famous for the sake of being famous. There are many talented, hardworking women out there and few gain recognition, but every visible woman, every working class woman, every woman of colour girls can grow up seeing achieving things, tells them that they, too can achieve something.

I hope it’s inspired them to be the next generation of strong women. I know it’s inspired me.

rita // Posted 6 April 2009 at 5:57 pm

There’s nothing more powerful than being down to earth and being able to get in touch with one’s experience and share it the way it was without spicing it up or reducing it.

It does not matter how wealthy or whatever race background or poor background one comes from, i think it is always powerful to be able to relate to people without making them feel less or more than they really are.

I love her any way. Way to go.

I think the young generation need alot of inspiration especially where education is concerned. I have always thought that going to school or college or uni, is a discipline. Whether one is bright or not, and fails, it does not really matter, it is the perseverance to achieve something that matters. That discipline shows alot of character. I believe it strengthens one’s mind to deal with what life might throw at one in future.

Karen // Posted 6 April 2009 at 6:48 pm

Well Done Michelle Obama! This is just what I did to get out of the hell that was home, education was my ticket up and out too. Young girls really do need to find what they want to do and study to keep up in the jobs market, especially with the employment problems caused by ability to produce children and other gender-related issues. This is just the right sort of role model encouragement needed. I would love to be able to go out to girls schools and say “theres the world, work hard, go out and get it sisters” but I wouldn’t know where to start.

Gregory Carlin // Posted 7 April 2009 at 4:34 am

A visit to the women in Cook County Jail Illinois, would also be nice.

Don’t place your trust in Princes or Princesses. If you want an icon, go to a fashion show.

The hero thing doesn’t usually work. It is sad, but everything gets sold, sooner or later.

That’s real world politics and schoolgirls in Britain, or Afghanistan, they just don’t count as far as President Obama is concerned, they really don’t figure.

That’s as sad as it is true. We don’t need a first Lady solution, because it just won’t work.

nick // Posted 7 April 2009 at 10:10 am

interesting words from Mrs Obama.

Just thinking what she would have said if she was talking to boys. Would she have changed anything ? Would she have said ‘ your the future so go out and make the world a better place’ ?

Would she have been more brutal ?

saying ‘ boys , you have no future ,

you will all become unemployed, violent and a waste of humanity’ ?

Probably been a mix of both.

Ali Sher // Posted 7 April 2009 at 5:14 pm

thanks to you .you are very nice and best for future .

Kez // Posted 7 April 2009 at 6:58 pm

Well, Nick, had she been speaking to boys, which she wasn’t, so I’m not sure why you feel the need to mention it, I suppose she might conceivably have used the example of her husband, who has also achieved quite a lot somewhat against the odds.

Davina // Posted 7 April 2009 at 8:05 pm

Quick, where’s the Troll-Be-Gone?

Excellent words from Michelle Obama – almost made me cry. I wasn’t popular at school because a) I wasn’t white and b) I was pretty damn smart (‘teacher’s pet’, ‘bod’, etc.), so telling these young women that ‘being smart is cooler than anything in the world’ totally rocks.

So refreshing to hear an emphasis on brainpower rather than looks…not something you hear a lot these days, for women…

aron embleton // Posted 9 April 2009 at 2:40 pm

I share in the gladness at intelligence being valued instead of looks but i couldnt help noticing that she said “nothing in my life’s path would have predicted that I would be standing here as the first lady of the United States of America.” This is hardly the achievement in her life, she is first lady because she is married to the president, she wasnt elected first lady. I’ve just gone and read about her on the Obama site and she has achieved a lot in her own right, so why is she vaunting being first lady when that is the reflected glory of her male partner? Also look how the section on her begins “When people ask Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn’t hesitate. First and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha’s mom. But before she was a mother – or a wife, lawyer, or public servant – she was Fraser and Marian Robinson’s daughter”. What is being highlighted here? She is a mother and a daughter. Barack’s part doesnt emphasise the facts that he is a father and a son, above all else, because what he is above all else is his independant active self, not someone else’s something, mother father daughter or son, he is his own person. It’s only to be expected that Michelle and Obama will say all the right things, or at least most of them.

Kez // Posted 20 April 2009 at 11:09 pm

Aron Embleton – I don’t actually see what is wrong with “When people ask Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn’t hesitate. First and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha’s mom.” if that is, in fact, how she describes herself. Which it quite probably is, because when you have children they do have a habit of taking precedence over everything else. That doesn’t mean other roles and aspects of life are not important. But I wouldn’t hesitate, and am not ashamed, to say that my children are the most important things (not that they are “things” but you know what I mean) in my life. Of course being a mother is not all a woman is, there are many many other valuable and important things in our lives. But for very many of us it is certainly one of the most fundamental.

I do understand the point you are making about the fact that the website bio has chosen to lead on this particular sentence, but I don’t necessarily find it problematic in itself.

Brandi // Posted 21 April 2009 at 4:41 pm

So far in the time that we’ve had Mrs. Obama as our First Lady, she has done a very good job spreading the word of hope and faith and never giving up. She is a very strong role model in the lives of many–young and old. And that is exactly what our society, our world, needs today.

Aron Embleton // Posted 13 December 2009 at 4:23 pm

Kez- I agree that people’s close personal relationships- parents, partner and children- are the most important part of their life, or at least they are in mine and I think as much is healthy.

But that isn’t the point, one would hope that in a choice between his kids and his presidency Barack would choose his kids.

The point is what relation those close personal relationships have to the way we conceive people in their public life. So it is a given that people’s kids etc are the most important thing in their life, but when we conceive or portray men we tend to do so according to their personal merits and achievements, their independant life, in a way we don’t with women, who instead we measure in terms of their facilitory role in their relationships with active others, like their partner, or their children.

I find it particulary disturbing to see her described in terms of first being a daughter, then a wife and mother, because this is exactly course women have taken as commodities throughout our society’s tragically misogynist past, as the property of one man and then the next.

Rather than ‘This is me, and what I have done’ It’s ‘This is who I belonged to, and this is who I belong to now’

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